School building burns

LAKE PLACID – A schoolhouse at Mountain Lake Academy was severely damaged by fire Monday afternoon. Flames and smoke poured from the roof of the smaller building that sits apart from the main facility on 386 River Road.

The single-story building houses English, social studies and art classrooms and was built around 1940, according to school officials.

The Lake Placid Volunteer Fire Department said no one was reported injured in the fire, and Carol Prevost, CEO of Mountain Lake Academy, said in a written statement that students were not in harm’s way.

“School was not in session at the time, and all the students were in another area and not affected by this situation.” Prevost wrote.

Prevost went on to describe the suspected cause of the fire.

“Staff reported problems with an outlet and when maintenance staff responded and flipped the breaker, there were popping sounds in the wall and soon after there was a smell of smoke. Soon flames were noticed.” she wrote.

Chris Mariano, the principal at the school, said he heard the sound.

“We flipped a breaker and then immediately heard crackling in the walls,” he said.

Don Jaquish, Essex County’s emergency services director, is one of four fire investigators who was to return to the scene of the blaze today to determine its cause and origin.

“We just know that it’s not suspicious,” he said this morning. “We believe it may be electrical, but we’ll have to verify that.”

Asked if the building is a total loss, Jaquish said it probably is, although it was dark and cold by the time he saw it Monday.

“I would say the building’s heavily damaged,” he said.

Firefighters responded from Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, Bloomingdale, Wilmington, Keene and Keene Valley. The crews drew water from a nearby stream to extinguish the fire.

“We appreciate the responses of all the fire departments that assisted in extinguishing the fire,” Prevost wrote.

This is the second fire at Mountain Lake in eight days. On Jan. 12, two teenage students were arrested for allegedly setting off smoke bombs that burned a small portion of a carpet.

Mountain Lake Academy, once called Camelot and St. Francis Academy, is a school for males, aged 12 to 21, who have behavior issues.

“Students come to us with a history of significant failures in school and at home, including school truancy, curfew violations, alcohol and substance abuse, anger management problems, and difficulty in relationships with parents and other authority figures,” the school website’s homepage says. “Here at Mountain Lake, we do whatever it takes to help these young men turn their lives around.”

Managing Editor Peter Crowley interviewed Don Jaquish for this report.